BHOPAL: The Chambal riverbanks have seen more than their share of the wild, but rarely as bizarre as this. Suspecting that a crocodile had swallowed a seven-year-old boy in MP’s Sheopur, villagers captured the 13-footer, dragged it ashore, tied it up and tried to slit its stomach to rescue the child.
This led to a three-way stand-off all night, with villagers insisting that the boy was alive inside the croc and forest officials and police explaining it wasn’t possible. The child’s family members even called out his name, hoping he would respond from inside the reptile’s belly.
The crocodile, its limbs tied and a stick clamped between its jaws to “stop it from chewing”, didn’t move a muscle and stayed still, waiting for the humans to figure it out.
In the morning, Antar Singh’s body was found floating in the Chambal river. Forest officers freed the crocodile and released it away from human habitation while a mourning village carried the child’s body home for the last rites.
Antar lived in Raghunathpur village, around 180km from Gwalior city and a river’s width from Rajasthan. He was swimming in the Chambal around 9am when he vanished. As his parents began frantically looking for him, some villagers claimed they had seen a crocodile swallow the boy alive. They pointed out a giant 13-footer which they believed was the “killer croc”.
Scores of villagers, armed with sticks, swarmed into the river, caught the croc in a net and hauled it ashore. They tied up its limbs while a group of men held down its jaws. A stick was inserted between its jaws in an attempt to stop it from regurgitating the boy and chewing him. The stick stood no chance against the croc’s jaws but the reptile didn’t bother with it.
The villagers saw the croc’s “bloated belly” and believed it was proof that the boy was inside. They began calling out his name.
Someone alerted police and the forest department. Uniformed men rushed to the village and stopped the villagers from cutting up the croc’s belly. The villagers then insisted that forest officials “surgically recover the boy from its stomach”, and refused to release the reptile.
By evening, news had spread and hundreds from nearby villages swarmed to the spot.
The officers kept trying to convince the villagers that the boy was more likely in the river and they were looking for him. Even if the crocodile attacked the child, there was no way it had swallowed him, they explained, but the villagers didn’t budge. A rescue team from SDRF launched a search operation for Antar but found no trace. At night, they suspended the search.
On the sands, however, the stand-off continued. A group of villagers sat holding on to the ropes that trussed up the croc’s limbs, while the cold-blooded reptile hunkered down for the night.
At daybreak on Tuesday, rescuers resumed looking for Antar and found his body in the water. There were deep wounds on his body, indicating a crocodile attack, said forest officers.
Officers say there are hundreds of crocodiles in the Chambal river and attacks on humans are worryingly frequent. Sheopur, in fact, is going to be the home for the cheetahs in India.
After Antar’s body was found, the villagers let go of the crocodile but asked the foresters to release it far away from their village. It’s become a man-eater, they said. Police, too, shared the local sentiment.
“This crocodile was turning into a man-eater. It had made similar attacks earlier also. It has killed and devoured several cows. This time we have released it far away from human settlements,” Raghunathpur police station in-charge Shyamveer Singh Tomar told TOI.